Vaughan Rapatahana challenges sexism in NZ Literature @pantographpunch


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As you can imagine this article hits home sharply, especially as I am writing a book on New Zealand women’s poetry. My book aims to open multiple pathways into what was, at one point, viewed as a foreign country: women’s poems.

We have come so far, especially in view of Pākehā women – unbearably less so if you are not white-skinned – but I still find examples of gender bias and blindness, alongside the dynamic, fertile and eclectic visibility of women writing, critiquing, publishing, winning, speaking out, showcasing, connecting.

Thanks Vaughan, Sarah Jane Barnett and Pantograph Punch for provoking us to think and rethink.

Read the piece here.


A taste:

In a searing and articulate essay, Vaughan Rapatahana takes Aotearoa New Zealand literature to task for locker room schoolgirl-grooming, women-baiting, and sexism that arises from a violent and suppressed masculinity. 

You, being a modern poet
Must write real he-man stuff
So you will take slabs of prose
And cuts it into chunks like this;
There need be no rhyme nor reason in it …
No top-notch New Zealand poet any longer
Writes ballads like Jessie Mackay
Or bird-songs like Eileen Duggan
Or lyricisms like Helena Henderson
Or tree-poems like Nellie Macleod …
And anyway they‘re only women

(‘Without Malice’ by Alien in O’Leary 179-180).

Introduction, an historical overview

Yes, I have read all the books, all the pertinent material pertaining. New Zealand has always been a sexist society, a patriarchal panoply of male power, controlling and suppressing female prowess – as so well exemplified in its literary structures. Sexism in literature is a reflection of a wider societal sexism whereby a deliberately constructed literary masculinity ruled up until the 1970s or at least the 80s. Historian Jock Phillips pronounced in 1987 that ‘the traditional male stereotype is now weakening in New Zealand’ (289), while academic Kai Jensen pronounced, ‘…the mid 1960s…was the end of a thirty-year sequence of growth, dominance and decline in what we may call “high masculinism”’ (107). While the latter admitted to some continued sexism in New Zealand Letters from male writers after this time, it was now, ‘a tenuous residual presence’ (157).





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